It was a given that NYU’s expansion plan would create a commotion — any proposal cramming 2.4
million square feet, which is about equal to the size the Empire State Building, into a six-block radius will have that effect. The Manhattan Community Board, a collection of citizens from the neighborhoods that make up NYU’s core, has already made its opposition to the proposed towers clear (“Flowers
Not Towers,” for example, is a key slogan). But the decision to construct four high-rises, underground space and an array of “superblocks” below
Washington Square Park might be out of their hands.
As the plan begins the long process of approval
the City’s bureaucracy, NYU2031, the official name of this real estate
behemoth (with its finish date nestled in the title), is slowly
transforming into a prospective
mayoral issue between two politicians who are expected to butt heads
Bloomberg is out of town: Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President,
Christine Quinn, City Council Speaker.
Until April 12th, the
ball is in Stringer’s court for this ambitious takeover of Downtown. As
Manhattan Borough President, his advisory vote to the City Planning Commission
before that deadline could give the go-ahead for the Commission to move the
plan into the secondary phases of approval: the City Council, where Quinn will
cast her decisive vote as well.
Before examining their political incentives, it is
appropriate to run through the expected benefits and downturns of NYU2031 to
get a sense of what is at stake for both office-seekers:
It is projected that the expansion plan will single-handily
create “18,200 construction jobs, 9,500 new permanent jobs and $6 billion in
hard and soft construction spending,” according to the Post. Once finished, the City will reap in $25 million in annual
tax revenues while Albany receives an additional $20 million. Also, Washington
Square Village, the home now for NYU faculty and graduate students and
epicenter of the plan’s focus, will see the creation of a new public school and
more outdoor green spaces.
While no Village residents will be kicked out via eminent
domain, most residents argue that the authenticity of the bohemian capital will
be tarnished indefinitely. In other words, Bleecker and Mercer streets are not
synonymous with high-rise. The University, in the community board’s opinion, is
overstaying its welcome in a neighborhood it has called home since 1835 — a
perspective where Stringer and Quinn must tread lightly.
Forty-four politicians and members of the community have
open letter to Stringer, in which it was urged that he votes no on the
project. In a half-ass effort to qualm both sides, the Manhattan Borough
President has demanded that NYU trims its Village space down to 1.5 million
square feet and relocate the remaining 700,000 square feet to another part of
the NYU empire — a proposal that NYU administrators had agreed to in January
but now seem to be changing their mind on.
The compromise was a way for Stringer to keep his base
intact for the future: the votes from the Village are as crucial to him as the
votes of the economic development and real estate community. But the planner is
stuck in a prisoner’s dilemma, unable to know how Christine Quinn, his main
rival, will vote on the plan.
If Stringer votes no and Quinn votes yes on NYU2031, the
former could be labeled as anti-business — a bad criticism for any mayor after
the Bloomberg reign. The expansion plan, outside of electoral politics, will
completely reconstruct that entire community and this point cannot be ignored. As
the deadline looms, it is important for both candidates to keep in mind that their
votes have a much bigger impact outside their mayoral campaigns.
Follow John Surico @JSuricz